Keep the seating area close to the back door. You can start with an existing patio or deck or create a new one (in which case, be sure to get all necessary permits). Where possible, site your outdoor living space away from neighbors and orient it toward attractive landscaping or views. And take design cues from your house; for example, echoing its paint colors or materials to make the outdoor space feel like an extension of your home.
Define the space to achieve a sense of enclosure. Your outdoor room's "floor" could be thin stone slabs laid on concrete or big concrete pavers with grass or pea gravel in the spaces between them. Often the house will serve as a wall for the outdoor room, which can be further defined with elements such as latticework, low stone or brick walls, trunk-style benches (a good place to stash cushions), or an arbor structure. Latticework can provide shade and privacy. You can create a greater sense of enclosure by incorporating benches and planters into railings and adding a roof. Even a partial roof (from a shingled shelter to a retractable awning) will make any outdoor space more useful in cool or damp weather.
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Extend your outdoor season with a fire pit, fireplace or gas heater (the kind you see on restaurant terraces). You’ve already got earth and air, so why not add fire, which makes an outdoor room feel cozy. And while you're at it, the fourth element, water: Whether it's a fountain or an ornamental pond with aquatic plants, a water feature can be a focal point or simply a source of pleasing sound and reflections.
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Furnish the space for durability and low maintenance, but treat it like a real room. Today, attractive outdoor furniture is available in every style and material, while outdoor fabrics and rugs come in an ever-growing range and look (and feel) better than ever. Substantial furniture pieces and distinctive pillows and accessories will make the space more comfortable, really bringing the inside out. Pick a bold accent color, perhaps drawn from flowers in your garden. And when the sun goes down, don't let the dark stop you from carrying on your entertaining; candle lanterns and candelabras will let you enjoy the space well into the evening. Tiki torches filled with citronella oil help keep the bugs at bay. It's also worth having the space wired for outdoor-rated lighting. A wired pendant light or sconces can complement landscape lighting, all of it working together to create a festive mood for al fresco entertaining.
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Enhance the area you see from your outdoor living area with ornamental trees or bushes that can serve as a focal point or privacy screen. Vines can embellish an arbor or turn latticework into green walls. Adding plants to the outdoor room itself, in containers that complement your outdoor decor, can provide pops of color and connect it visually to the garden.
For some, nothing less than a full-fledged outdoor kitchen with grill, sink, and compact refrigerator will do. Consider simply adding more presence to your grill by building an island next to or around it that can double as an outdoor bar and buffet (tip: top it with stone left over from the floor). Now, all you need is to invite us over for a barbecue.
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